Alaverdyan reading a prepared statement in Azerbaijani Defense Ministry recording. Video grab

Senior Lieutenant Gurgen Alaverdyan, 31, was reported captured on the Line of Contact with Azerbaijani forces in the early hours of August 23, Azerbaijani Defense Ministry reported. The Armenian defense ministry said that Alaverdyan left his army base in the high-elevation Mrav mountains after 19:00 on August 22 shortly before a snowstorm and reduced visibility may have caused him to lose  his way. (As it was reported by Sputnik Armenia, Alaverdyan was recently posted to the Mrav area and wasn’t very familiar with it.)

The Azerbaijani ministry claimed that Alaverdyan “commanded a sabotage group” that was “neutralized;” and Alaverdyan subsequently read a prepared statement to that effect. However, no evidence of any such group was presented and both the video and pictures of a machine gun and vest published by the ministry appeared to replicate the similar fabrications that it engaged in after capturing Armenian civilians Karen Petrosyan in 2014 and Zaven Karapetyan in 2017. Petrosyan died in custody, whereas Karapetyan was returned in prisoner exchange last year.

In both of those cases and again now, Azerbaijani officials accused Armenian captives of sabotage, as part of the effort to exchange them for the two Azerbaijani men held on murder charges in Artsakh since 2014.

In all, in the two decades between 2000 and 2020, 53 Armenian citizens were captured by Azerbaijan under various circumstances, with most crossing the borders by accident. 20 of those captured were military servicemen (though none had officer rank) and 33 – civilians. Of the 53, 36 were eventually returned to Armenia after exchanges for Azerbaijani prisoners, 8 refused to return and were granted asylum abroad and 4 died in captivity or immediately after release.

A total of five Armenian citizens are currently being held by Azerbaijan, three of them civilians.